Three years is a longer than usual gap between London visits for South African satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys; he has also switched venue from the Tricycle to Soho Theatre. In all other respects, though, the strategy remains the same. That may read like condemnation, but in fact it constitutes approval and support: ten years into true democracy in South Africa, Uys continues both to poke fun at and to make serious criticisms of his country's government, more or less just as he did in the days of the National Party regime.
Indeed, some of his impersonations seem a little adrift from recent events: it's plain that he simply enjoys "doing" the Bothas, P.W. and Pik. In other ways, though, it's precisely because of their distance that these figures can comment more sharply on current failings: Uys is also fond of pointing out that "Botha" is an anagram of "Thabo", an observation now given form in a ventriloquial sequence where P.W. banters with a Mbeki doll.
One of his great skills is to make it clear that his criticisms are made in a spirit of love and support. The opening line of his current show emphasises how remarkable the transformation – the "Pretoriastroika" – has been: "Imagine for a moment where we in South Africa would be tonight if Nelson Mandela had come out of jail angry." Thankfully, he didn't, and the resulting openness means that Uys can continue to inveigh comically against government corruption ("sometimes ANC also stands for A Nice Cheque") and, most passionately, against the government policy of HIV/AIDS denial.
Uys is a master of putting people at ease. Elections And Erections – named after "two things that were illegal for most of my life" – is a pretty tightly scripted show, honed often to epigrammatic precision, but it still feels like a 90-minute chat. He can simply sit onstage and don, bit by bit, the make-up and costume of his most famous character Mrs Evita Bezuidenhout, without detracting from the power of the character once he launches into her segment proper. It's this combination of friendliness and concern that has led him to undertake a number of tours of schools and communities over the years, to increase awareness first of the democratic process and more lately of the realities of HIV/AIDS. And at 59, his comic teeth are still sharp enough to draw blood.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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